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DEO files first challenge to a local government land-use change

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The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has filed what is the first challenge to a local comprehensive plan amendment since sweeping growth management law changes passed in 2011.

Legal watchers on both sides of the growth management issue — development and environmental — say the DEO move against the City of Mascotte in Lake County is significant.

Business groups and local governments in 2011 supported the growth law changes that sharply reduced state oversight of local development decisions. Environmental groups said the changes would put important natural areas at risk.

In Mascotte, the city annexed 500 acres within the state-designated Green Swamp Area of Critical Concern and changed the designation from one home per 10 acres with a requirement of 80 percent open space to one home per five acres.

The Department of Economic Opportunity on March 19 issued notices that it found the land-use changes not in compliance with state law and filed petitions requesting a state administrative law hearing.

“It would be significant in showing DEO is looking very closely at amendments and willing to challenge particularly in areas of environmental import to Florida,” said Nancy Linnan, a land-use attorney with Carlton Fields Jorden Burt who has represented developers and local governments.

Charles Pattison, policy director of 1000 Friends of Florida, said the growth law changes in 2011 were not supposed to affect “Areas of Critical State Concern” as designated in state law.

“Hopefully that (challenge in Mascotte) is a reflection on the value of the DEO oversight role in particular in water recharge areas,” Pattison said. “That is why Green Swamp area was designated.”

Mascotte City Manager Jim Gleason said Monday there had been no public opposition to the land-use change. He said the state challenge arose because of a miscommunication between the city’s planning firm and city officials.

The legal challenges filed by DEO were expected, Gleason said, after the city learned it had adopted a draft ordinance without incorporating changes sought earlier by the department. He said an April 6 hearing has been scheduled to rescind the ordinance that led to the challenge.

“We work well with DEO,” Gleason said. “This was just the first time there was a hiccup.”

DEO in 2014 appealed a development permit in Lake County in what was the first challenge or appeal to any local land-use decision in addition to comprehensive plan amendments.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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